Panepinto's odd withdraw from re-election campaign Ricchiazzi outbreak By Jeremiah Wood

As a follower of politics, you were no doubt enthralled with the spectacle of Senator Marc Panepinto's withdrawal yesterday from his re-election campaign. Even this blog, which broke the story of major trouble in his office, couldn't have imagined how things would play out.

But there was other weirdness around yesterday's hastily called announcement, largely overlooked by local media.

The first bit was the appearance of Illuzzi-wannabee Matt Ricchiazzi, who can't seem to decide whether he's living in Buffalo or not, or whether he's still the owner/publisher of his pay-to-play scandal sheet. Or not. One thing he is consistent about, though, is his obsession with the 60th Senate District. If you're unlucky, you'll recall his ugly attempts to strong-arm Mark Grisanti into hiring him, and the disgusting homophobic attack ads he produced when no job was forthcoming. Two years ago, he openly shilled for Al Coppola, a perennial candidate who came close to beating Panepinto in the primary. And just days ago, Ricchiazzi was gearing up for a repeat, praising Coppola and attacking Panepinto online.

Given that, anyone with any sense of shame could hardly imagine Ricchiazzi showing his face at Panepinto's press conference. It's just as hard to imagine any elected official actually having Ricchiazzi on their press list. Yet with news of the pending presser all over social media, there was no keeping him away. He was not only there, but he actually had the audacity to stand with the group of family, friends, and law colleagues behind Panepinto. He's lucky Panepinto didn't turn around and belt him. Panepinto's staff definitely should have kept out a media impostor and human troll like Ricchiazzi. He's like herpes: you never know when there's going to be a Ricchiazzi outbreak, but you can be pretty sure it will be embarrassing, unsightly, and happen at the worst of all possible times.

A less obnoxious but still off-color bit of weirdness involved the campaign of Panepinto challenger Amber Small, who sent a political operative to circle outside the press conference like a vulture waiting for its prey to die. Multiple media sources at the presser reported the operative "lurking" in a "creepy" manner (their words) outside. From the inky shadows (perhaps), he approached people who seemed to be in the media, handing them his card and telling them, "depending on what happens inside, we may be holding a press conference of our own." Who was this campaign genius, so determined to make a good first impression on Buffalo's media? One of the reporters tweeted a picture of said card with his name: Matt Tighe.

“Campaign for Amber Small expected to make announcement after @SenPanepinto presser, camp says. @news4buffalo”
If you're not familiar with the name Matt Tighe, it's because he's not from around here. He's a hired-gun political operative from a downstate PR/campaign firm called Millennial Strategies. They're based in New York City and Long Island, as is Matt, according to his Twitter feed, which gives his home as "West Babylon, NY." Except when he's in Buffalo working for Amber Small, that is. We're including a couple of pics of him here, so if you see him lurking outside any other political events you can freak him out by saying, "Hi, Matt!"

“Our amazing team on display last night at the @MillennialNY Holiday celebration. CC #millennialholiday2015”

Matt Tighe's stakeout of Panepinto's presser also raises the question of who is paying him -- consulting fees plus expense account, presumably -- to come to Buffalo to lurk? A month ago, Politics NY reported that the Senate's Independent Democratic Conference and its chair, Jeff Klein, were pledging to back Amber Small's candidacy to the tune of mid-six figures. Her protestations to the contrary don't have anyone convinced. And now, still early in the cycle, it seems her campaign has funds to bring in an out-of-town campaign consultant from the Big City. With professionally done graphics and even business cards, nicely printed with the union bug prominently displayed. This is no shoestring, grassroots challenge campaign.
How would her campaign be paying for all this? Let's see: Amber Small works as executive director of a neighborhood association, where she would pull down a low-five-figure salary, if that. Running a primary against a powerful friend of labor like Panepinto, she's not getting any union money, that's for sure. Especially not from the teachers' unions, who are undoubtedly mad as hornets over the withdrawal of their Grisanti-unhorsing champion from this year's joust. And the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee isn't in the business of funding challengers to sitting Democratic senators, especially not challengers whose names are mentioned in the same breath with the hated IDC.

So do the math, and all this is consistent with Small getting Big money from outside the area, as we reported a month ago. Although we can't say for sure, because it doesn't appear Amber Small's campaign has filed a finance report yet.

So stay tuned. Because as weird as yesterday was, this is Buffalo. Even more, this is the 60th Senatorial District. You ain't seen nothing yet.

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